Elo Hell tries to bring pro gaming to life as a comedic sitcom, but struggles to find a place with its gameplay or with its down-to-earth writing.
Gaming culture can be a dense community to dive into. Those who live and breathe gaming are a devoted bunch, and at times this turns into opaque terminology and social structures that have rarely been explored in media, including within gaming itself. Elo Hell, from developer Exato Game Studios, attempts to address this.
Elo Hell is an episodic game billed as a sitcom about the world of esports, with the first episode available for free. Following the lives of a series of determined gamers hoping to make it big in the professional scene, it blends together light-hearted narrative moments with elements of an in-fiction strategy came called Echo Star, along with the occasional mini-game. It's a love letter to gaming culture, but unfortunately its debut falls short.
The game's light-hearted nature does have its moments, as there's something a little infectious about its sincerity. However, the quality is unfortunately missing. There are pacing issues in Elo Hell's its first foray into the public, while no one part of its multitude of different gameplay styles really has enough meat to keep players engaged.
There are snippets of success here and there. Elo Hell is able to create a gut reaction of nostalgia at times, with its sitcom-esque narrative sections harkening back to the kind of humor seen in early gaming-centric webcomics. It's proof that, at the very least, this is a game that understands its community.
Unfortunately, there can be serious concerns with the writing beyond its understanding of the audience it is emulating. There are moments of charm, and the voice actor performances are wholehearted, but the writing is unpolished. Sometimes the awkwardness is deliberate, tying into the clumsiness of the characters on show, but other times it's certainly unintentional, particularly as moments of dialogue begin to drag.
The quality isn't helped by Elo Hell's technical limitations. Some of these are minor issues that add up into a disappointing overall picture, such as its awkwardly mixed audio. Graphically, the cel shaded style of Elo Hell within its story sections looks fine from a distance but is much more stilted up close, while its Echo Star gameplay also looks quite basic.
From a gameplay perspective, Elo Hell also has its struggles. There's a good level of variety to be found among its different modes, but no one mode stands out as something players would be enthusiastic about spending a significant amount of time with. In spite of its buffet of different elements, there's not a lot here that will truly satisfy.
The character-focused adventure game moments are the key structure to Elo Hell. These mainly revolve around dialogue options, as player character Chance switches between baiting his friends into trash talk and making awkward conversation with others. It's all very low key and low stakes, and although this isn't a bad thing given the overall tone of the game it does mean that some players might be left wondering why they are given a role to play at all.
Apart from that, there's the in-game hot new property, Echo Star. This turn-based strategy game with MOBA trappings is subject to a lengthy tutorial in spite of its straightforward mechanics, which could get on the nerves of players (particularly given a very chatty voiceover). Echo Star proves to be competent, although the game itself is quite limited and the play sessions do drag on a bit.
Breaking up these two core gameplay elements are a couple of other mini-games. The more successful of the two is a Dance Dance Revolution-style game about dealing with butt cramp during long gaming sessions, complete with enjoyably cheesy puns. It's a brief diversion that doesn't outstay its welcome.
The other is a pizza cooking mini-game that appears later in the episode. This ties into the wider plot of Elo Hell - Chance wants to get a fancy new chair, so takes part in a pizza-making competition to earn a job - but at the end of the day, it's another reaction-based mini-game. It lacks by way of humor, but once again is brief enough for it to stop from being overbearing.
In spite of this variety, no one element really stands out as being exciting. Although games about gaming generally prove interesting, with Elo Hell the quality is just not there, even if the passion is. Hopefully the game's further episodes will improve matters, but at the moment Elo Hell doesn't hit the mark.
Elo Hell's first episode is out now and available as a free trial for PC, with episode two also now available. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.